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Solimar Research

Parallel Newhall Ranch Cases: the CA Supreme Court Won't Decide Them All

Martha Bridegam on
Jan 26, 2015

In addition to the state Supreme Court dispute on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's action, three other Newhall Ranch cases continue in litigation, all brought by plaintiffs and attorneys overlapping with the group before the high court. (See http://www.cp-dr.com/articles/node-3461 for more links on these cases.)

Advocates filed suit in 2011 challenging Los Angeles County's approval of the project-level EIR for the Landmark Village phase of the project. The writ petition in that matter, No. BS136549, was thrown out by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio in February 2014 and was appealed in May 2014. In the Second District Court of Appeal the matter was assigned to the Fifth Division. Now captioned as Friends of the Santa Clara River v. County of Los Angeles, Case No. B256125, it was argued and submitted January 6, 2015.

The Mission Village phase received county approval for its January project-level EIR approval in 2012. It was challenged as of June 2012. After two years' litigation in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the writ petition, No. BS138001, was denied in June 2014. The petitioners appealed in August 2014. Their attempt to be reassigned to a Second District division other than the Fifth was rejected in October. The case continues as CA Native Plant Society v. County of Los Angeles, No. B258090.

A similar group of advocates filed a federal complaint March 6 in the U.S. Central District of California, challenging the federal side of the parallel state and federal review processes on environmental resources. The suit was primarily against the Army Corps of Engineers but initially also against the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), objecting to the EIS certification and the Section 404 permit issued under the Clean Water Act, and alleging noncompliance with other environmental laws and the National Historic Preservation Act. The Newhall Land and Farming Company joined the case as intervenor. It is Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Case No. 2:14-cv-01667-PSG-CW, initially assigned to Judge Audrey B. Collins but more recently to Judge Philip S. Gutierrez and Magistrate Judge Carla Woehrle. 

Plaintiffs in the federal case responded to defendants' opening dismissal motions with an amended complaint last summer. On September 26 the court narrowed the scope of the case, dismissing the EPA and some individual officials as defendants, but allowed claims against the Corps to go forward. Preliminary steps were taken toward summary judgment motions over the winter. As of early January 2015, plaintiffs had amended their complaint a second time per agreement among the parties. The court meanwhile required that a mediation attempt be made by the end of April.

More information on the Newhall Ranch controversy is readily available online, though sometimes difficult to parse because information and arguments have traveled in so many braided channels for so long. 

CDFW has its own environmental review page for the project with an exceptionally clear site map. The developer, Newhall Land and Farming Co., has posted a promotional site showing what homebuyers and others could gain from the project. The Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, saddled with Newhall review processes for a generation, has relevant Web pages including the specific plan, the initial Landmark Village phase, the second-calendared Mission Village phase, and the overarching Santa Clarita Valley Area Plan.

The environmental and community groups that have fought the project for a generation each maintain their own Web sites, but many point to a presentation, "Wildlands of the Santa Clara River Watershed" (11.3 MB), using maps and photos to show what the ecosystem could lose. Lynne Plambeck, who has fought the Newhall Ranch proposal since its start as head of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) said, "It's too late for the LA River. They can't take the houses out. We have the opportunity to not put the houses in." 

Editor's Note: The CP&DR e-mail blast of Feb. 3, 2015 contained a misstatement; only one of the four pending Newhall Ranch court cases is before the California Supreme Court.